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Fracking, Forests and Documenting Protests – March 17 to 29 in Bucharest

While one page also mentioned that the Syrian community from Romania invited Romanians to join them on March 18, from 6:30 PM, in commemorating the more than 200000 who were killed in the three years since the start of the Syrian civil war and expressing opposition to the Assad regime, the event that was actually embraced by the movement that day was a protest that took place in front of the Bucharest National Theater, starting at 5:30 PM. This was triggered by the fact that a convoy carrying most of the parts required to build the fracking well had arrived in Pungesti under the cover of night, protected by large numbers of gendarmes who ensured that the few locals who tried to stand in the way of the trucks had no chance to hamper the operations, so it was obviously announced on very short notice.
Only about 70 people were present at the peak, but I’m sure that well over 100 showed up at one point of another, so the reason why, after slowly increasing at first, the numbers held relatively steady, between 60 and 65, for most of the time we spent there was the fact that plenty got bored and left before others arrived. After all, we were largely just sitting around, nobody seeming to dare to make a speech or even start some chants until, close to 7 PM, Alex finally showed up as well, which also seemed to embolden a few others to briefly chant before the loudspeakers were used for a conversation with someone from Pungesti, who described the current situation and the previous night’s events, stating that unfortunately most of those people who fought bitterly for months have since become too frightened to continue and largely resigned themselves to their fate, despite being convinced that the well will spell disaster for their community.
Following a brief discussion, it was then decided to line up at the very edge of the sidewalk, holding the banners and chanting while cars passed and leaving Alex to repeat a brief speech describing the situation and the precedent it sets while they were waiting for the light to turn green again. Unfortunately, only perhaps half of those present did so, the rest seeming to decide that even that was too much trouble and largely sitting down on the stairs to chat until, as even those of us who had initially stepped forward were starting to give up, a vote was called. The choices were to march either to a minor television station that supported the protests, to the Ministry of Economy, or to the Government, the first option winning because a handful of others took after one guy who always wants to do that and shouted in favor of it while most can be said to have abstained, saying nothing.
As such, at 8 PM we were in the underground passage, where Maria suggested to stop for a moment, to inform those passing through there as well. Five minutes later, however, the rest continued on their way and I left the group, seeing no point in that march, but I later learned that, after arriving there and protesting on the sidewalk for a while, apparently some 40 people were left when it was decided to block Victoriei Way, perhaps some 25 actually sitting on the road in order to do so. From what I saw, this apparently lasted 15 to 20 minutes, during which the gendarmes attempted to negotiate and then, after dealing with some technical difficulties, followed the proper procedure, the protesters clearing away peacefully after receiving the final warning. Since all of this took place in front of the window that makes up most of one wall of the studio the television station in question broadcasts from, two were invited inside, to take part in the talk show that was on air at the time.

Moving on to March 19, two conferences about fracking took place that day. The first one, starting at 2 PM, was organized by the Romanian Geological Institute and largely aimed at promoting this method, so after some rather conflicting messages it seemed to have been decided to ask those who have something to say on the matter to attend in order to ensure that those favorable opinions will be challenged and the arguments against this technology will be presented as well. The second, on the other hand, started at 6 PM and dealt with the legal framework for exploiting unconventional fossil fuels, being organized by a few NGOs involved in the fight against fracking, so at least everyone could agree on promoting it. No idea what actually happened during either of them, however.

An important event for the movement, albeit more so for those who also participated in the protests that started in January 2012, took place on March 21, as part of the One World Romania festival. I’m referring to the screening of Where Are You Bucharest?, which was followed by a discussion with the team. According to the initial announcement, this was to be the only screening in Romania before the film will end up in theaters, at some point during the summer, though a message posted later stated that it’ll also be shown on May 30, during a festival taking place in Cluj.
Under these circumstances, large crowds were expected and those expectations were definitely met, as people started arriving very early and moved inside 30 minutes before the scheduled time, waiting in a tight group and struggling to make way when those who had things to do were looking for a way through, in order to manage to get a seat. After all, the theater had some 300 seats and, even though the viewing wasn’t free, there were far more people there, so once all seats were filled the rest stood all around, leaning against the walls or against the curtains at the back, as well as on every step of the stairs. Once no more could fit in even like that, those who were still outside had to be turned away.
Seats had proved insufficient the day before as well, for the first viewing of “Romanian Autumn”, which was part of the same festival and was also followed by a discussion with the team. This was somewhat interesting, because we’re talking about nothing more than a 15-minute short about these protests that started last September, and which could also be viewed on-line for a certain period of time, before the start of the festival. Plenty didn’t seem aware of that, however, even though the duration was on the poster as well, so I noticed some disappointed comments after the fact, though I wasn’t there myself to know whether anyone complained directly. Naturally, far fewer showed up for the second viewing, on March 23, and the discussion that followed then was apparently far shorter as well.

Also on March 23, people were asked to gather around the University Square fountain from 4 PM, to show solidarity with the father of the child who was found dead in Aricestii Rahtivani, after inhaling gas from a conventional oil well owned by OMV Petrom and not protected by as much as a fence despite being very close to houses. This was because, according to the information coming from the activists working with the child’s family, after taking pictures of Petrom workers erecting a fence around the well without obtaining any permits, to be able to say that it had been there all along, the father had found himself the victim of repeated intimidation attempts, culminating with being taken from home, beaten by gendarmes and told that they’ll “take care of him” if he keeps talking or posting about the matter. He ended up in hospital after this, the doctors admitting that he had “minor” internal injuries, but refusing to issue a certificate detailing their findings.
As usual, unfortunately, few people were there on time and nothing seemed to be happening until somebody had the idea to simply place the signs and banners on the sidewalk and wait for simple curiosity to attract people, while a few activists were there to hand out fliers and answer questions. This actually resulted in a few even deciding to stick around and we were around 55, maybe up to 60, at the peak, and this time I even took a few pictures once again.
After a while, some speeches started being made, at first explaining the situation. Sadly, despite initially seeming somewhat capable of restraining themselves, the activists eventually launched once again into accusations aimed at those who don’t join us, who don’t act to show that they care about what’s happening, Maria’s lengthy outburst being the most notable such moment. This will obviously never attract anyone, in fact being quite likely to make even some of those who are interested walk away, and those present did scatter after it, around 6:30 PM, but many of those who have managed to remain involved after all these months are tired, angry, extremely frustrated with the situation and, at least in some cases, rather radicalized, and they unfortunately keep proving that they simply can’t help themselves when it comes to this.

During the event described above, a member of one of the associations representing those who have participated in the Revolution approached us and said that they had an approved protest the next day, starting at 9:30 AM, and were willing to allow us to join them and state our grievances as well. However, while two activists said they’ll post an announcement and discuss exactly what to do with others, I haven’t seen anything about it on their profiles, nor have I heard anything about that protest that was mentioned, so the next event I do know about is an exhibition called “The Street Is Ours“, which opened on March 27, at 6 PM. Scheduled to only close on April 17, it aims to be a retrospective of the protests that started last September and will include debates, workshops, concerts and viewings of documentaries and other related films. Alongside pictures, drawings and artistic installations, actual signs, banners and other materials used by the protesters are on display, people having been asked to donate them for this purpose.

Finally moving on to March 29, a protest for Romania’s forests took place, starting at 2 PM and including a march that ended in University Square. The reasons were the complete lack of funding allocated for forest conservation and protecting biodiversity in the 2014-2020 National Rural Development Program, the lack of action against illegal logging and the fact that an Austrian corporation is obtaining the rights to exploit increasing areas in ways that appear less than legal, and definitely are unethical.
While supported by WWF Romania and also mentioned by the movement’s “official” page, the protest was organized by the Federation of Forest and Pasture Owners’ Associations and this showed in the signs and banners that were displayed, some actually dealing with the environment or at least being witty, but others being obviously political or promoting a nationalist or even religious agenda. As such, some of the few who meant to join the march because they expected it to focus on the environmental aspect were sorely disappointed and even quickly left, but I for one wasn’t surprised and spent most of the time walking around to take a lot of pictures, only actually joining the protesters a few times, when I heard chants that I agreed with and which were also frequently used during other recent protests.
Then again, the signs and banners that actually were on topic were likely the best and most relevant aspect, as otherwise, after allowing them to use the street to gather and march the short distance to Unirii Square, the gendarmes told the protesters to move to the sidewalk, where they had to stay all the way to University Square, which was reached around 3 PM. Since I actually counted a few times, I can say that around 200 people gathered there at the end of the march, but after a few speeches that held them together for a while longer, things quickly died down and, though the protest had been approved and announced to last until 5 PM, by 3:30 PM everything had ended, people merely waiting for the buses to take them back to the parts of the country each of them were from, and a couple of groups were already leaving to head to said buses on foot instead.
Before I can end this post as well, however, I also need to mention another event that took place that day, starting at 5 PM and including a screening of the first film in the Exposing the Invisible series and a debate about citizen journalism. In addition, the movement’s “official” page also mentioned the Earth Hour event organized by WWF Romania in Carol Park, which was to start at 8 PM and feature unplugged music and juggling.


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